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Umkumbe Safari Lodge
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Reviewed September 7, 2012

My boyfriend and I stayed for 4 nights and had an amazing time! It is a very simple, cozy lodge with beautiful scenery. While there are only 6 rooms, the lodge is pretty spread out and there is plenty of space so you never feel crowded. Do not stay at Umkumbe if you are hoping to spend your time watching TV or plan to have a personal butler provided by the lodge to cater to your every need. Stay at Umkumbe if you are hoping to have a more intimate experience with nature, where your down time is spent watching the animals that come near the lodge, reading books, and meeting fellow travelers.

Rooms: The rooms are simple, but clean. They have heating and air conditioning, hot water with good pressure, and a comfortable king-sized bed. The rooms were actually cleaned and tidied up twice a day, which was a bonus.

Food: The food was good and always served family buffet style, which I thought was great. Dinner even included a campfire! Breakfast included toast, butter and jam, yogurt, granola, fruit, eggs, ham, bacon, etc. Lunch was usually sandwiches and fruit or salad. Dinner was usually a meat dish (steak, pot roast, chicken) with plenty of vegetable sides, salad, bread, and a dessert. There was a vegetarian traveler while we were there who said her vegetarian meals were always very good.

People: The way the lodge is laid out makes you feel like you are part of a community and everyone was very friendly to us. The rangers Jason and Oliver were very knowledgeable, friendly, and always helpful. There wasn't a single question we asked that wasn't answered and I was actually shocked they weren't annoyed by the amount of questions I was asking them all day long about the animals, plants, bugs, etc. Really great guys! I also thought the owners were very friendly, as they would come out and talk to us during the day and were very accommodating. The owners even helped us book a tour in Cape Town while we were there, which I thought was very nice of them.

Game drives: As with any safari, the animals you see are not guaranteed. Some drives you see mostly impala and bushbuck, some drives you may see all of the big 5. Unfortunately, each of the Sabi Sands lodges is limited to their land for the drives, meaning if there is a lion roaring in Sabi Sabi, we can't cross over (but the same would be true for Sabi Sabi if the lion were in Umkumbe land). But the good thing is the animals move around, so you might end up 5 feet away from that lion on your next drive! I felt like there was still plenty of terrain to cover on each drive, though (we saw more animals than we could have ever imagined ... even a cheetah!!), and the politics of the area were actually really interesting and entertaining.

My suggestion would be to stay as long as you can! The more drives/walks you can go on, the better your chance of seeing awesome, elusive animals. I was never bored for a moment and would have loved to have stayed for another 4 (or more) nights if we could. We were very sad to leave! But also remember your fellow travelers really contribute to your enjoyment. With only 6 rooms, you end up feeling like part of a little family during your stay, so it's great to meet new people. Please don't be that awkward group that doesn't interact with anyone else!

Packing suggestions: Invest in a good camera with a good zoom lens (up to 200/300 mm or so); point and shoots don’t usually cut it because sometimes, the animals are at a distance (esp. by the lodge), and it is great to get nice close-ups of them. Also, bring clothes in neutral colors (tan/army green) for the bush walks; this really does affect how close you can get to the animals! If packing for a winter trip, be prepared for the bitter cold in early mornings and nights and the heat in the afternoon (so, truly pack for four seasons)!

Room Tip: I think all the rooms are the same and all close together, but there is no room service or a fitness center at the lodge.
  • Stayed: August 2012, traveled as a couple
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4  Thank nc0r
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Reviewed May 28, 2012

My daughter and I enjoyed our too brief stay. This is a small, family owned and operated lodge that is NOT a luxury operation. It is clean and comfortable, meals are abundant and well-prepared but not fancy, you collect your own drinks from the honor bar and the owners treat you like visiting friends. Guides can't produce wild animals on demand! Jason knows and loves his job and gives you so much information about what you're seeing. And the location overlooking the river is amazing. I'd stay here again in a heartbeat.

Stayed: May 2012, traveled with family
1  Thank clarefd
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Reviewed May 21, 2012

What a total let down. when I read all the prior reports of the Lodge I was put off and after spending 2 nights there, what a shocker. I was embarresed for the guests with us both local and a couple from Germany. Sorry but it is the last place on earth I would let people I know go to.. Firstly when we arrived, we were met by the game driver, not the owners who were not even there. They arrived the next day and I found them "cocky" unfriendly and almost like we were doing them a favour to be there. The game drives were unevenful saw very little and the snacks were equally poor. Dinner was a slap in the face, take it or starve. No starters, one main dry meat dish and 2 starches and a limp salad. Rooms are really bare and in dire need of a fresh up. The shower was leaking in our friends room, and it was treated with so what!!! Other than the company, will under no circumstances go there again

Room Tip: All the rooms are the same "old fashioned", a minute shower no bath
  • Stayed: May 2012, traveled with friends
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10  Thank Shirls45
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
umkumbe-brett, Manager at Umkumbe Safari Lodge, responded to this reviewResponded May 22, 2012

Hi Shirls,

Thanks for taking the time to send in your review, although not what we would like to hear. I will respond to each of your issues and please bear in mind that I have visited over 150 different safari lodges in Southern Africa and all the major reserves throughout Southern Africa. So I know exactly what else is out there. I note that apart from us, you have only visited one other safari lodge.

It is entirely normal to be met by your game ranger on arrival at a safari lodge. This is their job and they are employed to guide, as well as host their guests for the duration of their stay. It is a long day for them, from sunrise until the last guest goes to bed, but it is part of the industry and the rangers are very used to it, and they have regular leave.

Herman and Celeste live on the property, and I am sorry that you think that they should have been there to welcome you on arrival. I am sure you can understand that sometimes they need to head into Nelspruit to watch their sons play school sport etc. They employed Jason, your game ranger, to meet and host you. When they are at the lodge, they regularly pop over to the main areas to interact with the guests.

I am also sorry to hear that you found them "cocky" - this they certainly are not. They are lovely warm people who are very proud of the hard work that they have done over the past few years to run a commercial lodge in the Sabi Sand. They love having guests visit the lodge and do their level best to ensure that guests are happy and looked after. I am sure you can appreciate that sometimes personalities clash. It’s not a train smash - its life, and it certainly does not warrant someone calling into question their character on a public platform.

The game viewing at Umkumbe is good – however when it is quiet, there is not much we can do, as I am sure you can appreciate that with the Sabi Sand being unfenced to the Kruger we are part of a huge wildlife area and not a zoo. Generally speaking guests that appreciate all wildlife, and not just the cats, as well as the other enjoyable aspects of being safari (camp fires, the stars, rangers stories, the silence, scenery, no TV or internet etc) end up having a fantastic time on safari.

I beg to differ as regards the snacks and food - the snacks on game drive generally consist of biltong, dry wors, peanuts and raisins and crisps. I am not sure what’s wrong with that. In addition meals are typical "boerekos" with braai's, boboti, pap and other traditional South African meals. Please bear in mind that Umkumbe does not feel the need to employ a Michelin star chef like the rest of the fancy 5 star safari lodges. This is not what we are about. Good old fashioned home cooked meals prepared by Celeste and the ladies is what we are about.

So in a nutshell, I am of course sorry to receive your brutal review, but at the end of the day we are all working very hard at the lodge to provide guests with a great overall safari experience. It’s just that Umkumbe is not for guests who have champagne taste and a beer budget, or for guests who want to visit the fancy lodges, can’t afford it, and then settle for Umkumbe because of the cost.

Umkumbe is a great affordable safari lodge, and is suited to guests looking for friendly hospitality, an awesome location, comfortable accommodation, expert guiding and an all-round great safari experience.

Kind Regards
Brett

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This response is the subjective opinion of the management representative and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Reviewed May 12, 2012 via mobile

I travelled to umkumbe with my mom and sister from may 5th - 7th and stayed for 3 nights. My mom had been to the sabi sands area 9 years ago at a much more expensive lodge but with my sister and I paying as well we opted for a better deal. For the price and area you can not find better! It's over looking a gorgeous river and sand dunes, it's clean, you get three great meals a day, and the drives and property are beautiful. It's pretty obvious that you don't need and shouldn't expect crazy fancy rooms and ten butlers for the price payed.

The first night there we had Herman's friend and fiancé and they were great! They gave us many photography tips and were very knowledgable about the wildlife. For the 2nd and 3rd days we had Herman and Moses who did a fantastic job. We loved Herman's sense of humor and had a lot of fun and so did the other guests we shared a car with. Though we didn't see lions or leopards are saw amazing sightings of everything else and they certainly tried to find the cats. Great sightings included: hyenas, jackals, a serval cat (very rare) giraffes, rhinos, hippo, many birds, zebras, all bucks, buffalo, and many elephants. Infact we even saw a herd of 50 elephants run in front of the lodge. It's nature so seeing everything is never a guarantee and not seeing the cats did not effect our trip.

Overall we had an amazing trip and loved the lodge, the owners (Herman and Celeste) were very nice and the staff was friendly. The drives were exciting and the middles of the days were peaceful and relaxing with a pool and amazing view.

  • Stayed: May 2012
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4  Thank Emmykayy
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Reviewed April 29, 2012

We have just returned from a four night stay at Umkumbe which topped off brilliantly our adventure packed three week holiday in SA with our three older children aged 15 - 23. Jason our guide was very knowledgable, brilliant at tracking plus great company. To see Leopard hunting a couple of metres away from us not once but twice and to follow them through the bush was an experience of a lifetime. This in not to mention emnourmous herds of elephant strolling past the lodge itself and a troop of baboons jumping in the river in front of us, seeing 6 rare Giant Hornbill, being charged by a young elephant for fun, having the oportunity to take a turn as spotter on morning drives etc, etc, etc. Inevitably some drives were quiter than others but Jason always found something amazing and we loved every one. We would recomend you stay 3 or 4 nights rather than 2 if you want to really experience the Umkumbe safari way of life and importantly maximise your chances of seeing more amnimals and birds. There is a very high chance of seeing Leopard here if you ensure you have enough time. The food was tasty and plentiful with the best breakfast friuit salads we had in Africa. Our rooms were comfortable (I,2 and 3) with (in our case) a front line view of the river and the visiting wild life. Bliss. Thank you Herman.

Room Tip: Rooms 1 and 2 are right on the front looking over the river/riverbed which is really lovely and we often had elephants eating just down below us in the day. They are also more private as they are the furthest away from the main viewing deck area. The sound insulation is not great though so best to have both rooms for your party if possible.
  • Stayed: April 2012, traveled with family
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Thank Sarah B
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
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